While Donald Trump definitively ceded any presidential powers the instant that Joe Biden was sworn in as his successor, it seems like the Town Council of Palm Beach, Florida will cite a different type of presidential privilege in allowing Trump to live at his Mar-a-Lago resort despite having signed a “user agreement” that prohibits anyone from living there for more than three non-consecutive weeks per year.
In a meeting yesterday, the Palm Beach Council heard arguments from both the local residents who want to see the “user agreement” enforced and Trump’s attorneys.
The local residents argued that when Trump sought to turn the property into a membership club resort back in 1993, he guaranteed that neither he nor anybody else would live there more than seven days at a time for a total of 21 days a year.
They quoted a reply from a previous Trump attorney, Paul Rampell, when asked if his client was planned on living there: “No, except that he will be a member of the club and therefore will be entitled to the use of guest rooms.”
Trump’s legal team countered that assertion of the earlier promise with the type of legal loophole that Trump employed both in his presidency and as a less than above-board real estate developer.
They argued that rather than being merely a resident of the property, the former reality show host was actually the president of the Mar-a-Lago Club and therefore an employee as deserving of housing there as any of the domestic staff or pool attendants.
“He’s now president of the Mar-a-Lago Club,” lawyer John Manion, told the Palm Beach council at the preliminary “informational” hearing on the matter. “You all would remember he put everything in a trust while he was president of the United States. But he’s now president of the club.”
Manion pointed out that Plam Beach’s zoning code allows “bona fide employees” to live on club premises, and it explicitly states that both owners and officers of the club are considered employees.
“He oversees the property,” Manion, who has represented Trump for 22 years, told the council. “He evaluates the performance of the employees. He’s constantly doing that. He suggests improvements of the operation of the club. He does that constantly. You can ask the members.”
“He reviews the club’s financials,” Manion continued. “He attends events at the club and welcomes people that are guests. He welcomes and thanks everybody that’s attending. He greets members and their guests as he sees them. He recommends events to be held at the club. He suggests candidates for membership.”
“This guy wanders the property like the mayor of Mar-a-Lago, if you will. He’s always present. He’s ever present.”
From President of the United States to mayor of Mar-a-Lago…now that’s quite the demotion, but at least he’s finally found a position — with responsibilities much like those of a maitre d’ or a concierge — that he’s actually qualified for.
Manion also noted that much of the disruption caused by the more than a hundred Secret Service security details that accompanied Trump to the property while he was still president had disappeared now that he is protected by only about 10 Secret Service members.
“Things have changed, and I think it’s going to stay that way,” Manion told the council of the newly streamlined security presence.
“He loves it there,” Manion concluded his argument. “He’s got a right to live there.”
Philip Johnston, a member of the organization Preserve Palm Beach, then gave a statement on behalf of the aggrieved neighbors of Mar-a-Lago.
“Our group feels that Palm Beach is a genteel town and should remain so,” Johnston said. “The group is concerned that the recently announced use of Mar-a-Lago as Mr. Trump’s residence and now as the office of the former president threatens to make Mar-a-Lago into a permanent beacon for his more rabid, lawless supporters.”
One of the only two members of the general public to make a comment at the hearing was Simon Taylor, a Palm Beach attorney, who said that he believed that anyone who is “running the wing of a political party and holding superspreader events… is not a bona fide employee” of a club dedicated to dining, sunning, swimming, and playing tennis.
While the Council was not scheduled to vote on the matter during this preliminary hearing, council president Maggie Zeidman gave a pretty good indication that Trump won’t wind up living on the streets and picking through garbage cans anytime soon — as attractive a fantasy as that may be for some people.
“It appears to me that Mr. Trump, as evidenced by what Mr. Manion has shown to us, has met the criteria for a bona fide employee,” she said. “It seems there is nothing therefore that would prohibit him from living in the owner’s suite at Mar-a-Lago.”
A formal decision on the issue is expected by April.
In the meantime, at least Trump can rest assured that there is at least one place where he can still be called the president.
Original reporting by Michael Daly at The Daily Beast.
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